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  #1  
Old Sun 17 December 2006, 04:51
fabrica
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Laser Engraving on My Mechmate - the beginning - part 1

Once I finish my machine (hopefully by the end of the month) i wish to do Granite engraving (to a depth of 3mm). I have a inquiry to engrave on 8'x4' and 4" thick granaite slabs. This is said to be a fairly big order.

I wish to know if somebody could help (educate) me to fix a laser cutter into the Mechmate.

I have done some reading on the web and gathered the following info so far.

The basic laser system constitutes of a Laser tube, delivery system (set of mirror's and lenses) and a power supply.

Synrad of U.S.A is said to be a very reliable manufacturer of laser system which could be mounted on the Z axis. Their lasers are being used by most of the CNC laser cutter manufactures in U.S.A namely Multicam, Camtech and Kern etc.

I got in touch with Synrad and inquired from them weather their cutters could be incorporated into shopbots. Below given is the reply I received from them.

"Yes, a 100 laser is more then adequate for engraving marble and granite to that depth, but I am not sure if your generation
of Shopbot is "laser compatible"

My understanding is, at least on the older Shopbots, there is no "Analog Output" from the system controller/motor controller.

There is no way to control the laser power coordinated with the motion of the X/Y axis without that feature.

I would contact ShopBot to discuss this, and also to see if they have recommendations for you on upgrading to a laser.

You will need Optics, and additional software to be able to laser engrave as well. It is not a trivial upgrade, and you will
need the assistance of Shopbot to make it work, even if you have the required signals on your system controller".

My question is does the software and hardware that we plan to use in our machine have these features to support the laser option.

Even if the mach 3 software which we all hope to use does not support the laser cutting & engraving feature there are numerous other software and hardware developers who have developed packages to be used with laser cutters. Please check the below given link.

http://www.solustan.com/

If any of you guys could contribute some info to this project it shall be greatly appriciated.
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  #2  
Old Sun 17 December 2006, 06:14
fabrica
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Read the below given link. It gives some useful info on Solustan software.

http://www.cnczone.com/forums/showthread.php?t=23815
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  #3  
Old Tue 19 December 2006, 07:37
fabrica
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Will the Mechmate be able to handle a jogging speed of around 15 IPS without any problems. And also the weight of a 100 Watt laser mounted on the Z axis is going to weigh around 50 Kg. Will the mechmate be able to handle this weight? Do we need to upgrade motors?
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  #4  
Old Tue 19 December 2006, 08:59
Gerald_D
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I didn't realise these things are so heavy - doesn't James Bond have one in his wristwatch?

The 15 IPS and 50kg sound okay, but I am a bit nervous of mounting that 50kg on a standard Z-slide. Give a wrong Z-command and the slide can bang against a stop which might "disturb" the optics and other fragile glass bits. I thought that a laser ran at a fixed z-height? Maybe a manual adjustment screw is the answer? Or a much slower motorised Z? Or some shock-absorbing stops (on all the axes)?
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  #5  
Old Tue 19 December 2006, 22:51
fabrica
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Yep, They are heavy. As said the Z slide is only moved by a screw movement.
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  #6  
Old Wed 20 December 2006, 06:11
Brian_B
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Fabrica,

I take it from your post that you intend to mount the laser tube itself to the z-slide? There are problems with this - I considered doing exactly this several years ago with an old "gold strut" pr ShopBot.

The problem isn't whether the gantry can carry the weight, it's that the height of the laser tube creates a significant lever arm. Let's say you get your 50kg, 1.5 m long laser tube moving at 25 m per minute and have to make a sharp 90 degree corner - a very common scenario and likely to occur hundreds times with each cutting file. The sudden change of direction will cause deflection of the beam because of the momentum of the tube and spoil the cut. The only way around this is to build ramping routines into the motion software - i.e., as the beam approaches a sharp bend, the x-y movement slows down; the heavier the laser, the more prolonged and slower the ramping needs to be. This in turns leads to much slower processing times per files - i.e., markedly reduced profitability!!!!

For this reason, most commercial laser engravers and cutting machines mount the laser tube in a fixed position - usually under the cutting bed and parallel to the floor and bring the beam to the cutting bed via a series of 45 degree angled mirrors (you can do it with a total of four mirrors with the final mirror and focusing lens mounted on the z-slide).

This arrangement allows the y car and gantry to be lightweight and MUCH faster without sacrificing stiffness. In addition to my old ShopBot - soon to be reborn as a MechMate - I also have a mid-sized bed (20 x38") 35w laser engraver. It is an older model but uses a carbon fiber composite material for the gantry that is incredibly light and stiff - the combination allows the beam to move at up to 80 ips! There are newer models that have speeds of 800-1000 ips - yes, per second!

I suggest you look at several of the laser engraver manufacturer website to see how their machines are constructed - www.epiloglaser.com and www.ulsinc.com - are probably the two largest and best respected here in the states.

The mirrors and focusing lenses to build such a system are not cheap, but are not exhorbitant, either. The best supplier is Thor Labs: www.thorlabs.com

Should you have any questions, fire away. I'm no expert, but if you have a question I can't answer, I have a friend that has a PhD in laser physics from MIT that builds super high end laser systems on spec for both industry and medicine uses.

Brian
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  #7  
Old Wed 20 December 2006, 08:30
fabrica
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Thanks a Lot Brian for your input. Very much appriciated. Definitly I will be asking you a lot of qustions in the future.

Have you visited the Vytek site. They are supposed to be the best when it comes to laser engraving on granaite (which is my main purpose of going in for the laser option). Have a look at their M series and they have the complete laser unit mounted on the Z axis.I still have not decided on what option to take.
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  #8  
Old Wed 20 December 2006, 08:40
fabrica
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Brain, I had alook at the epilog and Universal websites they do not produce a Gantry type 8'x4' Table. Only Vytek, Camtech and multicam does them. Out of these three Vytek is said to be the best (according to CNC and other forums). I need to go in for a Gantry type system since I need to engrave on 8'x4' granite slabs.

For a 60 watt laser with optics and poewr supply what will be the price that we are looking at. Synrad is quoting US $15,000.
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  #9  
Old Wed 20 December 2006, 08:43
fabrica
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I have to go in for a Gantry type system since I need to engrave on 8'x4' slabs.
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  #10  
Old Wed 20 December 2006, 08:52
Brian_B
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Fabrica,

I looked at the Vyteck site - they're located about 75 km from my home - and the specs of the M series of engravers tells the tale. Firstly, they're only specing up to 50 watt lasers and the machines are VERY heavy - the smallest (48" sq bed) weighs in at 1100+ kg! This thing must be built like a tank. Of course, given that it is meant to engrave slabs of stone up to 48" sqaure and a half meter thick, it would have to be. On the other hand, all of that mass helps to dampen any vibration that might affect the laser tube as in my post above. The specs call for speeds up to 35"/sec - roughly 900mm/sec - having dealt with the laser engraving industry in the past, this figure is for transit time only and actual engraving speeds are likely to be less than half, or even just a third of the quoted speed. Caveat emptor.

Since they're so close, I may go and visit them for a demonstration - I'd be really interested in finding out if they have any design modifications beyond increased mass to dampen vibration.

Brian
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  #11  
Old Wed 20 December 2006, 10:16
fabrica
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Vytek has quoted to me a price of US $ 100,000 for their M seris machine which could do 8'x4' slabs. The probability of me buying this machine from them is almost zero.

Brian, The system that you are suggesting to me sounds very logical. If I decide to follow the sytem that you propose will you be able to spend your time with me on it.

Mach 3 does not seem to be supporting the laser option. Have a look at the solustan (Linkmotion) site. They seeem to be a good software partner to my project.

I have sent to you a personel mail as well. Please respond.
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  #12  
Old Wed 20 December 2006, 10:34
fabrica
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Brian, Just have a look at the below given link. They seem to have followed the same configeration that you are suggesting. But they have not given to us a detailed description of how the the lenses/mirrors have been mounted to achieve the end result.

http://www.cnczone.com/forums/showthread.php?t=7427&highlight=laser+project
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  #13  
Old Wed 20 December 2006, 15:45
Brian_B
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Fabrica,

My laser physicist friend is going to see if he can dig up a web document about how to design and align a mirror system.

I want to put forward a big disclaimer - to install and align even a 10 watt CO2 laser system is DANGEROUS!!!!!!

The beam from a CO2 laser is invisible and even a milliwatt system can cause blindness virtually instantaneously!!! System wattages in the 100+ range can amputate a finger. The only safe way to align the mirrors is with a colinear red dot laser. Since you should have a colinear red dot anyway - for aligning your substrate before engraving - this should not be considered an added expense.

In addition to the mirrors and adjustable mounts, the focusing lens and its mount, you also need to provide covered pathways for the beam to travel within - the beam should never be exposed except at the focusing lens. Most systems enclose the beam within brass or aluminum tubing as those materials are impervious to the beam. NEVER EVER use plastic tubing as the beam will melt them quite readily - common PVC pipe or vinyl tubing is a definite no-no as sublimation with the laser beam will generate poisonous gases!!!!

That brings up the next item - with wood and plastics engraving it is necessary to provide for an exhaust system to pull away smoke and noxious fumes. Is it also necessary with stone/marble/granite engraving (I don't have a clue)? Some of the big time commercial engraving outfits I've been to will enclose their lasers in separate rooms where the entire room is kept under negative atmospheric pressure (somewhat akin to Gerald's room for the original MechMate to prevent infiltration of sawdust throughout his shop space) to vent all the fumes and odor outside.

Anyway, I don't mean to rain on your parade, but there are many things to consider in implementing a laser based system beyond the mechanics and software of the engraver itself.

When I get the reference from my friend, I'll post it here for all to peruse.

Brian
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  #14  
Old Wed 20 December 2006, 20:12
fabrica
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Thanks a lot for your help on this matter. In my case doing raster work at speeds of around 15 IPS would be ok for me to start with. Do you think even at these slow speeds Z axis mounted (horizontal) would be problamatic.

I could start with slow speeds since I do not expect much work during the first few months. IF the business improves within this period we could think of having a second machine with much better speeds.

Don't you think that this is a safer way to approach this issue.

Universal has sent me their pricing. Their prices are almost half of what Synrad has quoted. All big guys are using Synrad. How is the Universal quality when compared to Synrad.
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  #15  
Old Thu 21 December 2006, 04:52
Brian_B
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Fabrica:

1. The slower the x-y motion, the less likely vibration related beam wander, but I could not even begin to quantify it. CNC routers are designed to move a relatively light payload - a spindle might weigh 10 kg, tops - that generates significant sideways thrust and angular momentum. To determine how such a design would translate to dampening a meter tall 25 kg lever arm is beyond my abilities. However, you could simply put such a system together and see how it functions, i.e., if the beam stays "tight" enough for your purposes. If it doesn't, you haven't lost anything as virtually all the parts you've purchased and installed will also be used with a mirrored system as well.

2. Safer? Safety issues with lasers involve two main areas - insuring that the beam is unable to escape and hit anyone or anything in the room, and venting the gaseous products of the laser engraving/sublimation process. Here in the states there are all kinds of mandated safety devices for packaged systems - laser proof covers/shrouds, cut out switches, etc. Something like the Vytek M series would probably have to be installed into a dedicated room with contact switches on the door(s) to prevent operation unless the room were closed up tight. The system I have will not fire the laser unless there is also a minimum amount of airflow through the closed cabinet!

3. It has been several years since I looked at purchasing a Universal Laser System. At that time, virtually all system manufacturers bought their laser tubes from Synrad. I was not aware that Universal was now making their own tubes. If that is the case, and Universal is simply not rebranding Synrad products, I wouldn't have a clue about their quality. Other manufacturers have included Deos and Coherent; while you may still see those names, there has been significant consolidation in the industry. Regardless of manufacturer, all RF tubes can be recharged by any manufacturer - costs about a $1000, regardless of rated power.

An interesting aspect of laser manufacturing is that that all tubes start out equally. If you look at the Universal site, you will note that all of the higher power tubes are essentially the same physical size. After manufacturing, the tubes are tested for power output - one may produce 60 w, the next 120. No rhyme or reason to it - but you'll pay three times as much despite the manufacturing process having been identical!

It is still early here - not quite 7:00 am, I'll call my friend later this morning or early in the afternoon and see if he has come up with a primer on mirror system design.

Brian
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  #16  
Old Thu 21 December 2006, 09:22
Brian_B
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I need to correct something I said in the above post regarding Universal.

Universal actually does manufacture its own RF laser tubes. The company was started by some ex-Synrad people that left over some real/perceived problems. My understanding is that the quality is equal to Synrad.
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  #17  
Old Thu 21 December 2006, 10:42
fabrica
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Thanks Brian, The info that you have provided to me is of immense value. Now the local tome is 00.30 local time. I will send to you a detailed reply tomorrow morning.
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  #18  
Old Sat 23 December 2006, 15:29
Brian_B
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When I had originally attempted to mount a laser to my old ShopBot, I tried mounting it to the Z-axis. It was a miserable failure. I next tried to mount it under the table parallel to one of the x-rails.

I finally decided to try mounting it above one of the y-rails of the gantry:



Note that this configuration requires only three mirrors/mounts as well as the focusing lens and its mount. By mounting the lens on the movable z-axis, you can use the CNC control software to focus the beam onto the surfaces of different thicknesses of substrate.

When I had tried to align the beam to the mirrors, I did it with my friends help. As the beam is invisible, there are some tricks that you can do. The first is to use old-style thermal fax paper. It will turn black where the beam hits it - just turn the laser power down as low as it will go, or the paper will disappear in a puff of smoke.

The best and safest way to align the beam is to use a colinear red dot laser. This literally is nothing more than a red laser pointer that you can buy at an office supply store for a couple of dollars. The trick is get the beams to be coincident. The following photo is of a very simple red beam "combiner" mounted on a Chinese non-RF tube:



The laser is the large glass tube extending to the left in the photo; the red beam laser is the small vertical black tube with the pink/black wires entering the yellow wire strain relief. The combiner is the aluminum block with the 45^o face.

The copper colored disc under the red dot laser is a mirror that reflects the red dot 90^o and to the right - it also allows the beam from the laser tube to pass directly through - play around with the red dot laser for a while and you eventually get them aligned.

These things are available commercially but they are ridiculously expensive. You can make your own on a small mill and lathe out of a scrap block of aluminum and a mirror. I have the plans for one somewhere and will post them if I can ever find them.

I just noticed that in the first graphic that I reversed the positions/labels of the x-y axes. I'm just too lazy to correct them right now!

Brian
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  #19  
Old Sat 23 December 2006, 20:02
fabrica
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Dear Brian,

I have also beeb in touch with Solustan the linkmotion software developers. They seem to be well known in the CNC laser cutting business. This is what he had to say about the Commercial CNC lasers available in the market.

Hello Udaya,

I did not answer one of your questions. This is about the Vytek claims or rastering the job at 1200 DPI. I checked their web site. They claim up to 1200 DPI. They have a limit because of the available memory in their controller. We do not have any limitations. The only limitation is the available size of memory in the PC. If your rastering exceeds the available memory, the Windows operating system will start to write the raster data to the hard disk drive. When that happens, the job preparation time will go from minutes to hours. There is a diminishing return on the higher resolution. Most of the materials will produce nice looking output for industrial applications at 500 to 600 DPI. Most manufacturers create special raster job showing gray scales and fancy pictures. However, it takes hours and days to perfect such an image. Nobody uses it in real life in the industrial world. To be profitable, you need to limit your output to 600 DPI or you spend lots of time finishing a job.

You populate your PC with 2 GB RAM, try smaller jobs (100 mm X 100 mm) and look at the output.

He lso had this to say,

Hello Udaya,

You need to understand the fundamental differences between traditional products like Vytek and LinkMotion software.

Vytek expects a job to be designed in one of those popular applications.
The job need to be exported to something like DXF format.
Now, you invoke the control software for the machine. Import the DXF file.
Set up the file for starting position, etc. These are all machine related settings.
Send the job in a language that is expected by the proprietary controller.
Controller converts all the commands into motion commands as well as laser commands.


Here is what we do:

Use and learn one design software. We work with many of them.
No need to export to DXF file structure.
No need to have a proprietary controller.
All you have is a breakout board of some type, drivers for step motors, and connections to the laser gun through breakout board.
I am guessing that Vytek or MultiCam either pays or spends between $5,000 and $8,000 for the controller and related software.
Our vector jobs start almost instantaneously. It does take a while to set up raster jobs. It is always a delayed response from the controller for both vector and raster jobs.


You should ask them to provide you a price quote for a system similar to the one you are building.

We have one limitation and that is ? when a job is in process, the PC is dedicated to running of the laser machine and it is not available to set another job or doing anything else. However, that is a small price to pay. Imagine if one of the PC goes down. It should be easy to repair or replace in SriLanka. You could even have another PC available and you could replace the PC and production continuous. If the controller went down, it could be a long time before you get back to production, not to mention that the repair could be quite expensive. This is equivalent to a proprietary CNC controller.

We do all of those fancy things for the laser:

- PWM to control the power

- Base frequency can be programmed by declaring in the interface. Different materials respond differently at different base frequency.

- PWM is a function of XY speed.

- Each laser can be tuned and retuned for its power output curve

- Red indicator dot is controlled.

- Air pressure and water cooling can be turned on and off with the job.

The accuracy of the output will depend upon your improved Shopbot design.


You can expand your systems with;

- Galvo based high speed marking systems

- DeltaTau PMAC based laser system in addition to Virtual Controller system. PMAC will allow you to free your PC when a job is processed. It is the controller for you.

And Finally Brian I I got him to give his opinion on your suggestion of using flying optics. Below given is what he has to say.

I read the explanation you included for mounting the laser on the gantry. In fact, we are not the expert on motion systems. We are expert on software, motion control, and laser features. We expect our partners to take care of motion systems.


- I suggest that you consider either mounting the laser cartridge horizontally to reduce the drag and the problem described by the other gentleman. In this case, you end up using one mirror to bend the beam at 45 degrees or you design flying optics type solution where the tube is stationery and you use a bunch of mirrors to bring the beam where you need it.



- Each of the design has its problems. Your horizontally mounted laser tube will be no higher than a typical spindle but you will be limited to around 10 ips in terms of safe movement. It is good enough for raster work, even if a bit slow. Bean alignment is easy and large format working area is not a problem. Ideal solution for cutting business.

- Flying optics is great where the system needs to carry a very low load on the gantry. It brings two challenges. Aligning and keeping the beam aligned is an effort. You need mechanical engineer to figure things out and develop a procedure. Secondly, as the laser beam travels, it diverges. It is the tight point of the laser responsible for generating power. To tighten it again, you need to play games with additional optics. This is why most of the machines offered by ULS and Epilog are limited to a certain working area. They use flying optics.



- My simple suggestion is to build a shopbot modified machine with the laser tube in the gantry mounted horizontally to get going quickly. It will work for engraving as well as cutting for now. Also, you can offer larger working area. Also, explore what Vytek and Multicam people do. This is just a suggestion.


- By the way, 800 to 1000 inches per second is not possible with flying optics concept. Somebody is making a mistake. There is a technology of high speed galvanometric motors working at high speed on a very small area using and moving mirrors only at high speeds of 100 to 200 ips..
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  #20  
Old Sat 23 December 2006, 23:14
Gerald_D
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Have you guys got an idea of tube dimensions and fixing points on the tube? Maybe I can make some mounting suggestions.

(Brian, I made a small edit for you above)
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  #21  
Old Sun 24 December 2006, 03:16
fabrica
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Dear Gerald,

This is the laser that I plan to fix If I decide to go for a modular system (Z axis mounted). See the link below.

http://www.ulsinc.com/co2laser/engli...pdfs/ULR60.pdf
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  #22  
Old Tue 26 December 2006, 23:35
Gerald_D
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13kg and 700mm long sounds very manageable - way better than the 50kg and 1500mm that this thread started with!
See no mechanical problems for mounting it on the z-axis.
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  #23  
Old Wed 27 December 2006, 06:37
fabrica
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The ealier 50 Kg was for the Synrad 100 Watt laser. 13 Kg is for the Universal 60 Watt laser.

Gerlad, Brian what do you think of the suggestions made by the linkmotion guys. If I am not mistaken I read somewhere that thier pulsing rate is around 500,000 per sec.
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  #24  
Old Fri 29 December 2006, 03:58
Brian_B
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Hi fabrica,

I went back and checked my notes from several years ago when I was looking to buy a commercial laser engraving system.

While Epilog and ULS stated maximum engraving speeds of 120-150 ips, there were salesmen from two other companies (that shall remain nameless) that quoted me speeds of 800 and 950 ips. I'm not making this up - I still have their emails.

Looking at the current websites for these two companies today, they also are quoting top speed in the 150 ips range.

It would appear I was sucked in by marketing hype.

Interestingly, the builder of the 24x48" CNC laser engraver in this CNC-Zone thread:

http://www.cnczone.com/forums/showthread.php?t=7427&highlight=laser+project

is quoting something like 600 ips for cutting foam (go to page 11 of the thread), so such speeds may be attainable.
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  #25  
Old Fri 29 December 2006, 06:43
fabrica
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Dear Brian,

What you say is correct. 800 to 900 IPS is achived on smaller machines (max size 24"x24"). In these machines they use flying optics. For bigger and heavier machines (gantry Type) which I am interested in and where the laser is mounted on the Y Car the speeds that Could be achieved is in the region of 25 IPS. If the laser unit is mounted on the Y car Horizontally this speed is possible. If the laser is mounted Vertically speeds of around 15 IPS seems to the norm.

In my case I would happy with speeds of 15 IPS to start with. Later when I get familier I would mount the laser Horizontally and go in for higher speeds.

What would be the depth of engraving for Granite with a 60 Watt laser?. Some say you could do 1/16" and some say you could go down to 1/8".
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  #26  
Old Fri 29 December 2006, 06:45
fabrica
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Gerald,

Can you please let us have some mounting suggestions for a vertically mounted 60 Watt Universal laser.
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  #27  
Old Mon 01 January 2007, 21:34
Gerald_D
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Fabrica, from the brochure it looks like the laser has 4 holes tapped into the back of it. 23.25"x3" pattern only .25" deep. They are very shallow holes and one would have to be very careful with this - or you could hear glass cracking!

I must do a drawing for you when I get back to my CAD computer.
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  #28  
Old Tue 02 January 2007, 00:10
fabrica
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What could I do to rectify this issue. I will awiat your CAD drawings. In the mean time I will get in touch with the laser manufacturer and get more info on mounting instructions.
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  #29  
Old Sat 06 January 2007, 04:46
fabrica
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Brian, What is your knowledge on laser beam delivery systems. Please let me have whatever info you have on this subject. I would like to design something on my own. I also need some info on a system of flying optics.

The beam delivery system that I have in mind is similar to what could be found in the below given link.

http://www.lasermech.com/smallAp.html
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  #30  
Old Sat 06 January 2007, 06:28
Brian_B
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fabrica:

I have usually gone to ThorLabs - high precision stuff more suited to experimental labs than to a production environment. LaserMech has some nice products! I'll be sending for one of their catalogs.

A good reference for all of this stuff is the following webpage:

http://xenia.media.mit.edu/%7Eyarin/laser/

This is the homepage of the "Low Cost Laser Cutting Homepage" The links from this should give you just about everything you could ever want to know.

This page is one of a gazillion pages from the Open Courseware initiative of MIT (http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html). MIT chose to put its entire undergraduate/graduate catalog of courses online - for free and without registration. The courses come as a downloadable zip file (warning - these can be upwards of 1-2 gigabytes!) and include all of the lecture notes, problem sets, quizzes, tests, handouts, etc. Thre are also links to video demonstrations and so on.

There are some really serious courses in there - EE, MechE, Physics, Math, etc. A lot of which could be applicable to CNC machines. Have a look, but be warned - it can be like taking a sip of water from a fire hose!

Brian
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